Written by Emily Mullins
The United Church, Chapel on the Hill in Oak Ridge, Tenn., is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to Mission 4/1 Earth. During the UCC's 50-day church-wide earth care initiative, the congregation will address topics ranging from renewable energy and composting to tree plantings and acid rain. But two of the main topics the group will highlight stress the importance of protecting our planet from the tops of the mountains to the depths of the sea.
"We are trying to pack in as many different types of activities of different interests in the seven weeks as we can," said the Rev. Randy Hammer, pastor of Chapel on the Hill. "We are trying to cover a lot of topics in a short amount of time. We are going to be very busy."
Mountaintop removal mining is an issue the congregation faces right in its own backyard. Anderson County, home of the church, borders the Cumberland Mountains, where mountaintop removal coal mining has already occurred. A bill called the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act is circling the state legislature that would ban mountaintop removal mining in Tennessee. Although it has failed five times before, part of Chapel on the Hill's Mission 4/1 Earth efforts will go toward writing, emailing and calling state representatives to urge passage of the bill this time around.
"Mountaintop removal is local to us," Hammer said. "There are some of us who believe that the mountains are sacred, so that is why we are involved with this."
Another environmental issue that will take precedent during Mission 4/1 Earth is wetland preservation. One of the congregation's members works for the University of Tennessee Arboretum and has been part of a project to establish wetlands at area elementary schools. In addition to visiting a wetland one evening to do a "frog count" – where children will count croaking to see how many frogs inhabit the area – there will also be a demonstration to show how toxic runoff affects wetlands. Through the use of colored water in a tabletop display, it will show the effects of chemicals and other toxins on the water quality and wildlife.
Another member, whose daughter is a marine biologist in Florida, will offer a presentation on how human activity has adversely affected the Everglades using photos and information from a recent visit. The presentation will also include a children's activity about alligators.
"There are interactive activities for the kids and informational sharing for the adults," Hammer said.
Hammer said most of his congregation is already pretty eco-conscious, adding that it used a financial gift to replace about 60 windows with energy-efficient models last year. Many of them also enjoy the outdoors, and respect the natural landscapes around them. But there is always more progress to make, and Hammer hopes that Mission 4/1 Earth will promote long-term awareness and change.
"I think the momentum will continue after Mission 4/1 Earth," he said. "And I hope that some of the things we suggest will catch on and become more of a habit than just a one-time thing."
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns.
Here's a preview of Mission 4/1 Earth: 50 Great Days.
Visit ucc.org/earth for more information or join the movement on Facebook.